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From the City to the Suburbs

There is the city: Detroit, in all of her horror and beauty.

Then there are the suburbs: everything else around Detroit.

At least, that's how I define it. I live in Wayne County in a suburb known as Grosse Pointe Woods. And before you start thinking my neighbors and I are rich, let me say that my neighborhood – and the rest of the city – is just about as Middle Class as they come.

And that may be, in part, because more minorities are moving out of Detroit and into the suburbs. Census data (from The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press) now backs up what everyone around here is already noticing: Blacks and Hispanics are moving to Macomb, Oakland and parts of Wayne counties in droves. Bye, bye Detroit. Hello, Lakeshore Drive.

That's a good thing – and I welcome them with open arms into my suburb.

While I understand Detroit's plight -- and I mourn its population losses -- I have to say I understand why people are leaving. And I'm not sure how to get them back other than massive turnaround plans that involved "shrinking" the city and making its issues more manageable. I fluctuate being ashamed of not living in Detroit because it needs more families to admiring how lovely everything is here in Suburb-land. But I digress.

Here's why I welcome anyone -- Black, White, Green, whatever -- to my block. The house at the end of my street was in foreclosure for about four years. It needed foundation work, and decay was slowly taking over. Then, this nifty Black family moved in. Over the past two years, they have fixed the broken fences, planted the most glorious garden and beautified the whole block in the process. Their daughters are charming, and the couple seems truly happy to be here.

Are some of my largely white neighbors upset that more minority families can suddenly afford to live here? Probably. But they are the “Old Guard,” as I like to call them. I don't think the majority of the people who live around me even care what color I am or what they are. As long as you pay your taxes and maintain a semblance of respectability, you're all right with me. And if you tell me how you get your hostas to grow so unbelievably lush, then I'll help pay for your Country Club membership.

Still, there are the whispers. Another neighbor on the next block just told me that she cannot sell her home (although it is selling for measly $157,000 for a four-bedroom house with a completely renovated kitchen). So they are renting it in hopes of finding a buyer. That means more renters...which means more problems? Maybe. I'm in a wait-and-see mode at this point. What is worse: An empty house or someone who could eventually buy the place and make it the nicest abode on the block?

Here's a quote from the Freep article:

Tired of gunshots and her crumbling neighborhood, Theresa Johnson moved to Eastpointe with her 14-year-old son in February.

“I don't miss a thing about Detroit,” said Johnson, a 38-year-old black woman. “I lived there all my life, but I couldn't stand to see what has happened to the city.”

I'll take Ms. Johnson as my neighbor any day. She wants a nice place to live. She wants to improve her standing and that of her family. So do I. I grew up in a rural community where not that many people could afford to go to college. You were lucky to get a job outside of seasonal work. So I wanted something better too. And I was lucky enough to get it -- that's what everyone wants. And that's what makes this country work.

Warren is becoming one of the most popular suburban destinations for minorities who are fleeing crime, blight and corruption in neighboring Detroit, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said.

“People are looking for a cleaner, safer city with good schools. … They are saying, ‘Enough is enough,' because they are worried about their safety,” Fouts said.

What will the suburbs look like in five or 10 years? Maybe a little nicer, maybe a little more interesting. What will Detroit look like? That is the larger, more difficult issue.

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  • 1

    "And before you start thinking my neighbors and I are rich, let me say that my neighborhood – and the rest of the city – is just about as Middle Class as they come.
    And that may be, in part, because more minorities are moving out of Detroit and into the suburbs."


    And when I think it can't possibly get any more smug, "Here's why I welcome anyone -- Black, White, Green, whatever -- to my block."

    So kind of you to welcome minorities, or anyone as you say, to 'your' block.

  • 2


    I think the bigger story is that both of Metro Detroit's two largest racial demographics have a net outward flow from the region. And while the Hispanic and other groups are increasing in number, they are coming in at rates no where near high enough to replace the bodies that are moving away.

    I'm not even sure why the two Detroit dailies bothered to focus on the flow from Detroit to the suburbs instead of the flow from the region period. The minority trajectory should have been no more than a footnote, since black families moving to the suburbs has been the trend for the past several decades. And if the writers had taken a closer look at those numbers, they would have noticed that about 1/4th of the black population that left Wayne County ended up leaving the region altogether, and not relocating to a Macomb or Oakland suburb...

    So I would be writing with a much more somber tone if I were a homeowner in the Detroit area. Families moving out of Detroit and into your neighborhood might temporarily stabilize your block, but in 10 years you'll be living right next to the edge of the doughnut hole. If anything, the Detroit dailies should be using this as an opportunity to put the pressure on the region or Lansing to establish some type of greenbelt policies around Metro Detroit. As I sit here and watch from afar as Rome burns, it's clear to me that this needs to be done.

    Michigan would be wise to enact a temporary moratorium on greenfield development, especially in southeast Michigan, until they get a grasp on just how far those population numbers are gonna fall. If they don't do that, and the numbers keep heading south, I guarantee you that the Grosse Pointe neighborhoods will start to look a lot like their neighbors on the other side of Mack and Alter Roads.

  • 3

    Now is the time for vigorous City Planning. Too bad we don't have a great planning Department and Staff.

    Until the day arises when we have a fine Architect-Planner in charge we will be in limbo and watching Habitat for Humanity doing those share croppers replicas all over the place.

    They simply are NOT the solution.


  • 4

    Also I should add that Lafayette Park was a response to urban blight 55 years ago. The run down balloon frame hoses were falling down and a blight back then.

    This has been such a successful response to the problem of wood frame houses becoming dilapidated that I have a similar non plussed attitude. Where y'all been?


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